Exposing a NextGen Fraud: the so-called ‘Conventional’ ZigZag Routes

It is quite clear that, with the election results and the imminent White House occupancy change, coordinated efforts are ramping up to try and push through the latest pet projects: ATC privatization, and accelerated NextGen funding. These efforts are sourced in some backroom ‘collaboration’ between top-level FAA officials, key aviation leaders in Congress, and the industry (the airlines, the manufacturers, and the lobbyists).

As has always been the pattern, the Av-Gov Complex will knowingly lie to sell their schemes. One of the most graphic lies of the present cycle is variations of this graphic:

201106scp-conventional-vs-rnav-vs-rnp-faa-zigzag-graphic-at-pg7-of-satnavnews_summer_2011

This misleading graphic is liberally posted in news articles, FAA reports, etc. It implies that today’s air navigation systems are primitive, needing to upgrade via a progression from zigzag routes (left image) through RNAV routes and eventually RNP routes. An important fact being hidden, though, is that RNAV and RNP routes already exist, as they have for years. (SOURCE: pg.7 of FAA’s SatNav News, Summer 2011 edition)

Time and again, this image is pushed to help brainwash the Public (and especially Congress) to believe the current ATC system is incredibly archaic and shockingly inefficient, with flights zigging and zagging all across the continent. They pitch NextGen as ‘transformative’, while ignoring and concealing the facts that:

  1. commercial passenger flights have been flying mostly direct flights for decades, and thus these graphically presented zigzags are a complete lie;
  2. RNP & RNAV procedures have been available and usable by these flights for roughly two decades, and thus the whiz-bang NextGen changes are not really changes (we can accomplish the expensive NextGen goals by smartly using what we already have); and,
  3. an entirely new class of delays has been recently invented – enroute delays, at altitude; typically 100-200-miles from the destination airport, these are used to smooth out arrival surges because FAA refuses to restrict appropriate arrival rates to accommodate known airport capacity limits.

FAA et al need to be called out on this misinformation. It turns out, you will find two versions of this deceptive diagram in Chapter One of nearly every recently completed ‘Environmental Assessment’ for various airspace changes around the nation. Here are some examples, from recent OAPMs (Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex); look at the identical content in any of these cookie-cutter documents, at these pages:

  1. June 2013: Draft EA for DC OAPM (216p; see pages 6 and 14 in chapter one, marked pages ‘1-6’ and ‘1-14’)
  2. March 2014: EA for Atlanta OAPM (122p; see pages 1-6 and 1-14)
  3. July 2014: Final EA for NorCal OAPM (134p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  4. December 2014: Draft EA for Charlotte OAPM (118p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  5. August 2016: Final EA for SoCal OAPM (144p; see pages 1-6 and 1-12)

United Airlines at Dulles: Yet Another Example of Corporate Welfare?

The airlines offer an extraordinary example of how the playing field has become increasingly tipped, to favor money, corporations, and the politically connected. In this example, the Washington, DC area is served by three commercial airports: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Dulles [KIAD], and Reagan National [KDCA]. As is common at all major U.S. airports, there is little actual price competition at each airport, with each location dominated by one or two major carriers. So, travelers to the DC Metropolitan area via Southwest use KBWI, those flying United use KIAD, and those flying American use KDCA. The data for December 2013 shows Southwest flies 81% of KBWI flights, United flies 91% of KIAD flights, and American flies 56% of KDCA flights.

This airport dominance is problematic for local communities. It puts the non-resident airline corporate officials in a strong bargaining position to compel elected officials to create huge subsidies. The taxation system underlying U.S. commercial airlines and airports is such that, if an airline abandons a hub, the local economic impact can be severe. See for example the dramatic declines in airport operations when major airlines ‘moved on’ from former major hubs: USAir in Pittsburgh [KPIT], by Delta in Northern Kentucky [KCVG], by American in St. Louis [KSTL], and by United in Cleveland [KCLE].

In this case, elected officials are saying they believe United might leave Dulles, so they must give United lots of money. Well, think about that for a moment: if United left Dulles, where would they go? They certainly would not base at KBWI, and compete against Southwest. And trying to relocate to KDCA would be all but impossible, due to capacity limits. So, would United want to leave the entire DC metropolitan market? Would one of the four major U.S. commercial carriers be able to run a real airline without serving the lucrative market that feeds elected officials, lobbyists and aggrieved citizens to the nation’s capitol? Of course not. In other words, United was not going anywhere, and the huge subsidy being trumpeted by McAuliffe, Kaine, and others is nothing but another example of massive corporate welfare.

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

When Viewed Through Cash-Colored Glasses, ‘Clouds Cause Delays’

Everyday, FAA creates a traffic report, then uses social media to report expected air traffic delays.

(click on image to view source tweet)

(click on image to view source tweet)

Cute little graphics are intuitive: the cloud image means delays related to cloud layers (here listing the DC area to NYC area), and the lightning image means delays related to thunderstorms (here listing all major hubs from Charlotte to Houston).

Mindlessly, we absorb this report and feel a bit more ‘aware’ of the system managed by FAA. But, if we are a bit more mindful, and actually THINK about what FAA tweets, we have to ask: are clouds really a valid reason for delays?

The answer is obviously NO. These delays are happening routinely, triggered only by clouds. Not severe weather … just puffy, calm, benign layers and pockets of water vapor. These delays continue to happen – and at the same few hub airports everyday – but it is not due to ‘clouds’; they happen because of unmanaged capacity. I.e., FAA continues to allow too many planes in time slots that are too short.

Take a look at the weather maps for this day. In the first image, clouds are white and precipitation is green. Note the existence of both clouds and precipitation in many other parts of the nation… yet, no delays are reported/expected at most locations. Again, the delays are all happening at a select few hub airports, where FAA refuses to impose needed capacity management. All FAA has to do is impose sufficiently reduced hourly flow rates, but FAA refuses. And the consequences are significant: flights are delayed, passengers lose billions of dollars worth of their time, and communities are inundated with excessive aviation noise and air pollution, all to accommodate more flights than are needed to serve each specific community.

(click on image to view current image at ClimateReanalyzer; select the 'Precipitation & Clouds' view)

(click on image to view current image at ClimateReanalyzer; select the ‘Precipitation & Clouds’ view)

(click on image to view current CONUS infrared image at NOAA.gov)

(click on image to view current CONUS infrared image at NOAA.gov)

Although it conflicts with Congress’ original intent, the fact is that FAA serves the airlines, not the people. FAA, beholden to industry profit-interests (of the final-four major U.S. airlines, and of manufacturers, too), refuses to manage airport capacity by imposing reasonable flow-rate restrictions. Instead, FAA collaborates with their industry partners (aka, ‘stakeholders’) and creates manipulative spin/propaganda, trying to sell us on NextGen spending that creates greater impacts while producing little benefits.

FAA works to feed more money to the same industry partners who hire FAA officials when they retire. Just like the rigged U.S. political campaigns, where the system is manipulated by the duopoly parties. We suffer increasing impacts from failures that will never go away until we demand overdue reforms.

Debunking the A4A Op/Ed Letter at TimesLedger

Airlines for America is the largest lobbyist for U.S. airlines – and the main force behind years of coordinated spin seeking to dupe Congress and the Public. With added intensity these past few years, Airlines for America has been pressing to both privatize ATC and waste billions to ‘transform ATC’ by supposedly adding satellite-based NextGen technologies (while ignoring the fact these technologies are already widely used). Airlines for America is also known as ‘A4A’, and formerly known as the trade group, ‘Air Transport Association (ATA)’.

Doubtless, with possible rare exceptions, the people who work at Airlines for America are all good people:  hard-working, protective of their families, civic-minded and loyal to our nation, and careful to optimize quality-of-life in their home communities. And, when they don their most expensive outfits, they are Washington DC lobbyists.

Here is a picture of three of A4A’s lobbyists: Rubino, Calio, and Pinkerton:

(click on image to view bios for all A4A executives, at airlines.org)

(click on image to view bios for all A4A executives, at airlines.org)

The online bio for CEO Nick Calio notes his professional background. He co-founded a DC law firm, worked for Citigroup, and also worked within the presidential administrations of both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. All that before he became A4A’s CEO, in early 2011. The Wikipedia entry for A4A notes that “…Calio was hired after the Republicans made big gains in the 2010 midterm elections….”

One of the A4A VP’s has been reported to be dating House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, of Pennsylvania. That would be Shelley Rubino, and her official title is ‘VP, Global Government Affairs‘ (perhaps this is more acceptable than ‘VP of government relations‘?). For what it is worth, Mr. Shuster has offered assurances that his relationship with this A4A VP does not have any bearing on his tenacious advocacy of privatizing ATC and accelerating NextGen.

Another A4A executive is Sharon Pinkerton, Senior Vice President for Legislative and Regulatory Policy. It appears that Sharon’s in-basket receives occasional directives to produce public relations material. One recent result was a letter with Sharon’s name, published in the TimesLedger, an old newspaper serving the borough of Queens, New York. Queens is highly significant here, because this is a densely populated area impacted by not just one but TWO major U.S. airports – both Kennedy and LaGuardia. As heavily covered in the news, Queens is one of those places where FAA’s NextGen implementation is destroying quality-of-life, and creating noise-ghettoes out of historic neighborhoods. Oh, and just like those executives at A4A, the residents of these impacted Queens neighborhoods consist largely of good people: hard-working, protective of their families, civic-minded and loyal to our nation, and careful to optimize quality-of-life in their home communities. And, all the more to their credit, very few of the Queens residents are lobbyists.

So, for your reading pleasure, here is a copy of the A4A letter, as published in the March 3rd edition of TimesLedger. Highlights and footnotes have been added, to rebut the misinformation being pushed by A4A. Following the letter is a compilation of graphics from the online flight-tracking website, FlightAware. This compilation shows all factual data (routes, times, speeds, etc.) needed to ascertain the efficiency of all 29 commercial airline flights, from LaGuardia to Reagan National, as flown on March 3rd, the day of the TimesLedger Op/Ed by A4A.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

A key line within the A4A letter says: “…twenty years ago, a flight from LaGuardia to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport took less than an hour. Today the same flight takes 90 minutes, as airlines have to account for ATC delays.” This is not a casual slip, though, as the letter reinforces the delay concept by referring to ‘our Nation’s antiquated air traffic control system’ and citing ‘WWII-era radar technology’.

The facts prove the A4A line is totally false. Instead, the real data shows:

  1. On Thursday, March 3, 2016, there were 29 airline departures from LaGuardia to Reagan National.
  2. This route segment (KLGA-KDCA) is a duopoly, between two airlines pretending to compete, each offering hourly flights on the top of the hour, from 6AM until 8PM. American offers 15 daily flights, and Delta offers 14 daily flights.
  3. American schedules their flights at 84-minutes long, but the flights averaged 50-minutes; this means that, while airborne and under ATC control (using the present blend of radar and satellite technologies), each American flight ‘made up’ an average 34-minutes against their advertised schedule.
  4. Delta schedules their flights at 86-minutes long, but the flights averaged 49-minutes; this means that, while airborne and under ATC control (using the present blend of radar and satellite technologies), each Delta flight ‘made up’ an average 37-minutes against their advertised schedule. Also, Delta does not actually fly these flights; instead, they use a contract regional feeder, Shuttle America, a very common practice (used by United and Delta as well, and at nearly every major U.S. airline hub).
  5. In the A4A letter, it was claimed that “…twenty years ago, a flight from LaGuardia to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport took less than an hour….” Well, the same is true today: 50-minutes is comfortably under an hour.
  6. Looking closely at the screen-captured routes, it is clear they are VERY direct. In fact, the only significant route adjustments are all related to fitting the flight into the arrival sequence at Reagan National, and thus has NOTHING to do with LaGuardia. [NOTE: the primary route adjustments are a slight delay vector frequently applied near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, and the extension of the downwind leg (those sometimes-long U-shapes prior to landing), to accomplish spacing in the landing sequence]
  7. Both airlines are using small commuter-sized aircraft on essentially all flights: 69-seats for Delta (using the E175), and 100-seats for American (using the E190). Only American’s first flight of the day has higher capacity: a 128-seat Airbus 319 … which makes sense, since lots of people fly to DC to see their dealer elected representative.
  8. The small aircraft size points to an interesting possibility: if FAA and the airlines wanted to reduce delays and noise impacts, they could agree to fewer LGA-DCA trips per day, using larger aircraft (130-seat to 160-seats or more) that have essentially identical flight profiles (thus no greater noise impact per flight).
  9. Chances are high this same reduction strategy would apply on other route segments to major hubs (O’Hare, Atlanta, Charlotte, DFW and Boston, for example). That is to say, if use of many small planes was disincentivized but use of fewer large planes was incentivized, between LaGuardia and other hubs, we could easily reduce the number of flights using LaGuardia; huge improvements could be realized – and virtually overnight – in both local noise impacts and national airspace system delays.

About this data compilation:

The PDF below is a compilation of screen captures, showing all 29 airline flights from LaGuardia to Reagan National, on March 3, 2016. For each screen capture, the map on the left side clearly shows New Jersey and adjoining states, depicting shores, highways, etc. Notice how the flights consistently pass over the same locations, one flight after another.

On the right side of each screen capture is a datablock about each flight. It shows flight number, scheduled times, actual times, airspeed, filed altitude, aircraft type, and route of flight. Be sure to pop-out the graphic, so you can read the finer details. Pay attention to the actual departure times, actual arrival times, and compare them with the ‘official’ times scheduled by the airlines.

One important thought to keep in mind while studying these flights: controllers are like regular people, in that they try to do as little as possible. They try to keep things simple and easy. So, if other air traffic was not an issue, every one of these 29 flights would have been cleared to fly a beeline from off the departure runway to land on the arrival runway. Every variation from a direct route is solely to adjust the flight, to keep it out of conflict and to finesse it into a safe arrival flow. A tiny tweak, turning the flight to the left or right, while passing north of Baltimore, is generally all that is needed to add a minute of delay to the overall flight, enabling a smooth arrival flow. Alternatively, a speed adjustment ordered by ATC can accomplish the same end result. Look closely at the thin green line and you can see these route adjustments.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded. You can also click on the pop-out feature (dwell over the upper right corner and it will appear) and the magnifier to view the finer details of the maps and data/times for the 29 flights.

The flight data, as well as the maps, shows all 29 commercial flights from LaGuardia to Reagan National on March 3rd. These facts, when juxtaposed with the A4A letter, present a compelling case: A4A is in the business of making money by lobbying, and as with all examples of lobbying today, their methods sadly include the manipulation of facts and perceptions. In wartime, their methods would be called propaganda. In peacetime, too, A4A’s methods are destructive. Not just to local quality of life, but also to the larger issue: functional and effective democratic process, with empowered citizens, knowledgeable and responsibly engaged.

So, A4A, if you are sincerely committed to hearing concerns and finding solutions, please cease your attack on our ears, our homes, and our democracy. Start serving the nation, not just your ‘lobby base’.

Airport Weather Observations (METARs) for Winter Storm Jonas

20160124cpy.. Winter Storm Jonas snow depth map (WeatherChannel)A storm for the record books, Jonas is also understood to be an indication of storms to come. And, it is not a stretch to understand the cause and effect – the link between these extreme weather events and our energy consumption habits:

  • excessive fossil fuel consumption, causes…
    • …excessive greenhouse gas accumulation, causes…
      • …geologically rapid and substantial temperature increases, causes…
        •  …a more energized weather system, with more heat energy and larger amounts of water vapor, causes…
          • …more violently-interacting air masses (hence, intensified weather).

So, in the course of just a few human generations, we are literally destroying the habitability of our waters and our air. And aviation is very much at the heart of this problem. Not only is aviation arguably the poster-child of excessive and arbitrary energy consumption, but this industry also relies heavily on fossil fuel consumption (and it does us no real benefit to take food crops out of production to grow biofuels for aviation!). Thus, our best political leaders (if we have any?!) will take note: aviation is perhaps the most logical first target within the transportation sector, for meaningful action to address our growing problem of excessive atmospheric CO2.

Weather & Aviation

Aviation safety has always depended on accurate and detailed weather predictions and observations. The international system for recording weather observations is METAR. METAR observations are recorded at least once per hour at most U.S. airports, and more frequently when conditions are changing or marginal. Although the intricate coding may feel a bit ‘geeky’, it is not difficult to learn to read METARs; see Reference Materials for Decoding METARs.

July 22, 2013: Dangerous crosswinds and tailwinds contributed to this high-speed landing and nose gear collapse for a Southwest KLGA arrival.

METARs are also an excellent resource to use, to help predict the flow configurations and thus the likely impacts on your home or community, as caused by your local airport. ATC constantly refers to METARs to make runway change decisions. In most cases, ATC selects a runway configuration that is aligned into the wind, to maximize safety. At some of the most congested airports though (LGA and JFK come to mind), FAA’s failure to stop excessive airline scheduling has created barriers to runway changes, and has thus created unsafe landing conditions. These conditions have contributed to incidents, sometimes with injuries or worse. One example: the July 22, 2013 crash of Southwest Flight #345 while landing at La Guardia.

DIY: Viewing METARs Online

Most of the larger snow-impacted airports include snowfall and accumulated snow depth in their METAR observations. The METAR observations, recorded 3-times per hour during most of this weather event, offer a fascinating and precise insight into the weather severity.

Here is a summary of snowfall totals and snow history for the ten largest commercial service airports, listed from north to south. For each airport, three blue links include the aiREFORM airport page, the current METAR (showing the last 168 observations), and the NOAA forecast:

[KBOS] — Boston-Logan Airport
Snowfall first reported at 1:54pm Saturday, ended 11-hours later at 12:04am Sunday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 35 gusting to 45.METARForecast
[KPVD] — Providence Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:30pm Saturday, ended 10-hours later at 10:16pm Saturday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 29 gusting to 38.METARForecast
[KISP] — Long Island / Islip Airport
Snowfall first reported at 11:56pm Friday, ended 29-hours later at 4:56am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 23-inches. Peak winds 36 gusting to 52.METARForecast
[KLGA] — LaGuardia Airport
Snowfall first reported at 10:30pm Friday, ended 28-hours later at 2:45am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 28-inches. Peak winds 32 gusting to 48.METARForecast
[KJFK] — JFK Airport
Snowfall first reported at 9:49pm Friday, ended 27-hours later at 2:51am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 30-inches. Peak winds 33 gusting to 46.METARForecast
[KEWR] — Newark Airport
Snowfall first reported at 9:28pm Friday, ended 29-hours later at 2:51am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 21-inches. Peak winds 30 gusting to 39.METARForecast
[KPHL] — Philadelpia Airport
Snowfall first reported at 6:34pm Friday, ended 28-hours later at 10:19pm Saturday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 31 gusting to 49.METARForecast
[BWI] — Baltimore-Washington Airport
Snowfall first reported at 1:38pm Friday, ended 35-hours later at 12:54am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 27-inches. Peak winds 23 gusting to 37.METARForecast
[KIAD] — Washington-Dulles Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:52pm Friday, ended 35-hours later at 11:52pm Saturday. Snow Depth reached 23-inches. Peak winds 28 gusting to 46.METARForecast
[KDCA] — Washington-Reagan Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:59pm Friday, ended 36-hours later at 12:52 am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 18-inches. Peak winds 29 gusting to 43.METARForecast

And, here is a compilation of the METARs for all ten airports, converted into a scrollable PDF file:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Next Up: The Melting

The initial snowfall and winds are just Part One of this weather event. Part Two will soon play out, as the accumulated snowfall melts and eventually flows away. Depending on how much (and how quickly) temperatures warm up, and how much rain falls onto the accumulated snow, there may be local flooding, ponding, and other problems. Airport conditions could remain untenable for many days.


See also:

Is Arctic ice melting faster than expected?

There was a news article late last month, discussing the rapid decline of Arctic Sea ice. I researched a bit further and found the charts and interpretations at the National Snow & Ice Data Center. It all indicates Arctic ice is melting faster than was expected. Of course, a great fear related to polar ice melting is that, based on the enormous amount of ice at the Earth’s poles and on Greenland, this rapid melting may raise the world’s oceans by 20-25′.

Arctic lowest ice extent hit a record low in September, and reduced to just a fraction more than 50% of the average minimal ice extent for the years 1979-2000. The ice is also thinning.

I then looked at some airport data and realized, we have a bunch of major US airports at risk of being flooded, because they sit on flat land close to sea level. These are all around or below 20′ mean sea level (MSL). I put together a quick list:

  • The three major airports in the New York area are;
    • Kennedy Airport [KJFK], at 14ft MSL
    • Newark Airport [KEWR], at 18ft MSL
    • and LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], at 21ft MSL
    • note also, Boston’s major airport [KBOS] is at 20ft MSL, while Washington’s Reagan National Airport [KDCA] is at 15ft MSL.
  • On the West Coast, San Diego [KSAN] is at 13ft MSL, while San Francisco [KSFO] is at 17ft MSL, and Oakland [KOAK] is at 9ft MSL. If commercial aviation is to continue to grow, San Jose [KSJC] will feel pressure to expand its operations.
  • In the southern U.S., Miami International [KMIA] is 8ft MSL, while Fort Lauderdale [KFLL] is at 9ft MSL, and both are on FAA’s short list of 35 OEP Airports. New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, but its two airports ([KMSY] & [KNEW]) are at 7ft and 4ft MSL.
  • Vacation flying to Hawaii will be impacted; the Honolulu Airport [PHNL] is at 13ft MSL.

The takeaway may be this: if we do not get serious about managing and minimizing the rate of carbon consumption, we will see a time come soon when the environment is biting back, not just flooding low Pacific islands, but also taking away key parts of our aviation infrastructure.